While attending my state library association’s annual conference this past year, I met a fascinating children’s librarian who spoke very passionately… about her ukulele. She told me I could pick one up and immediately make music. I was skeptical. I’ve always wanted to be musical, but have always sort of failed. I do not have a lovely singing voice (despite many dramatic years in high school show choir). I’ve dabbled in playing instruments —cello, guitar, clarinet, accordion — without mastering a single one. But this lady was convinced, and almost had me convinced, that I could be a ukulele superstar.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I went home, bought myself a ukulele, and haven’t put it down since! I believe that making music can be one of the most empowering of all human experiences. If you can learn even 2 or 3 chords on a ukulele, you can play a literal multitude of recognizable tunes. And if you’ve spent a lifetime telling yourself you’re not musical, only to be easily proven wrong by a little piece of wood with strings? Well, what else have you been wrong about? What else can you do or be, that you’ve been telling yourself you just “can’t” or “aren’t?” You could fly a plane! Or get a black belt in Tae Kwon Do! You could do anything! Or you could at least try. That is the lesson the little ukulele taught me.
I began quietly proselytizing to my friends about the power of the ukulele, and soon I’d converted 2 more librarians to playing the uke. We recently started meeting regularly to play music, drink tea, and talk shop, which has got me thinking a lot about libraries and music, and why they make sense together. I’m not a scientist, but I have read extensively about music and its effect on the brain. I’d like to speak now, in general terms, about how (and why) I think we can (and should) be using music in our libraries today:
1. To teach
Most of us probably do this already. We use songs in story times and programs. Music has been proven to boost cognitive behavior. It can help us learn. This is why there are songs to teach children the names of the 50 states, the days of the week, and, most famously, the alphabet. Concepts are often easier to remember when set to a rhythm or melody. Some scientists speculate humans evolved the ability to sing, and the neural capacity to recognize beats, for this reason! We librarians have known for years that singing is a key component of early literacy, so sing proudly at your library, and offer a healthy collection of recordings for your customers to check out. Some of my favorite artists making high quality music for children are Laurie Berkner, Jim Gill, and Dan Zanes. What are some of yours?
2. Setting the mood
Music is emotional. It can bring us pleasure. It can make us remember specific times in our lives. Companies use music in their advertisements to try to excite us about whatever product they’re selling. Why couldn’t a library use music to try to “set the mood” for our customers? The branch I work at uses ambient music in our children’s room for this purpose. If we’re having a craft program, we might play some energetic music to get the creative juices flowing. If things are getting rowdy, we’ll play some mellow music, to try to soothe youngsters’ souls. Is your library utilizing music to help inspire or relax your library customers?
3. Build community
Music can play an important role in social bonding. Why do soldiers march in time? Why do we dance at significant occasions, like weddings? Music can get us moving together, fostering an environment of cooperation. Studies have shown that people can have universal reactions to music, and thus music becomes a shared experience that brings people together. What opportunities can the library create to build community through music? We can host musical programs. Or offer a place for musical groups to practice together. Does your library engage in any fruitful musical partnerships?
4. Hand people instruments
Let’s set aside the idea that learning music is too difficult. I’ve personally disproven it. Learning to play music is just like learning a language. You need to practice. To properly appreciate music, you should immerse yourself in it. What if we could offer our customers a chance to handle an instrument, to physically make music? This idea is a lot of things: It’s expensive. It’s noisy. It’s not “industry standard” library procedure (although there are libraries that have instruments available to use or check out). But it’s also empowering. It’s inspiring. It’s happy! I challenge you to tell your customers “Yes, you can check out a ukulele with your library card” and not see them smile!
Hopefully this blog has made you think about how you incorporate music in your library, or how you can, if you don’t already. Please sound off in the comments section with anything you have to add to this important discussion! (And feel free to contact me directly to talk about ukuleles!)
Our guest blogger today is Tess Goldwasser. Tess is a Library Associate at St. Mary’s County Library in Lexington Park, Maryland. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at email@example.com.